James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness (2009)
On 2 December 1823, Monroe sent Congress his 7th Annual Message. Contained in the message was his dictum of "closing off" the Western Hemisphere to European colonizing-and-meddling. Monroe went further, saying that if a European nation(s) interfered in the Western Hemisphere, it would be seen as a threat to the United States. Monroe also stated that the U.S. wanted no part of Europe's affairs or wars (although trade with Europe would be uninterrupted). Monroe made sure to mention in his annual message that the U.S. Navy would be strengthened and far more active.
By the early-1820s, the U.S. became even more powerful economically, and even militarily, despite the small national army. The young nation had built many more roads and canals and steamboats, which networked America like never before. However, Monroe, for the only time in his Presidency, vetoed a bill, the National Road Bill, shocking the nation. Monroe argued that the Constitution did not grant power to the federal government for "internal improvements" connecting states. Monroe went on to say in his veto message that the military had the authority to build roads and canals between the states in the interest of national defense.
Monroe let it be known early in his 2nd term that he, like Washington, would not seek a third term. That announcement started the political free-for-all in the Cabinet (with the exception of SecState Quincy Adams) where pursuit of self-interest and advancement by far trumped the national interest. Among the members of the Cabinet, SecTreas William Crawford was by far the most aggressive; Crawford even confronted Monroe in the White House over appointments that he felt should have gone to those loyal to him. Crawford threatened Monroe with his cane, and Monroe grabbed fire tongs, preparing to defend himself. Thankfully, the Secretary of the Navy was present, and he escorted Crawford out of the room . . . a very bitter-and-ambitious Crawford never set foot in the White House again while Monroe was President.
The last positive event that occurred during Monroe's Presidency started in 1824, when
Lafayette accepted the President's invitation to tour the U.S.; Monroe hoped that Lafayette could rekindle national unity. Monroe's old friend from the Revolutionary War received the largest celebrations in U.S. History to that point, and for many decades later. Towns and cities did their best to outshine each other in honoring Lafayette. On 12 October 1824, Lafayette arrived in D.C., and finally the two Revolutionary War friends saw each other again in the White House. It was quite the scene, in that the last Revolutionary War Era President shook hands with the only surviving general from Washington's Army. An added bonus for Monroe was that for at least awhile, Lafayette's tour made the upcoming Election of 1824 a secondary event. Lafayette spent December of 1824 and January/February of 1825 in Washington, D.C.
Clay's ambition to eventually become President led to a deal being made: if JQA would make Clay his SecState, then Clay would swing enough states his way to elect him President. The results of the House vote were JQA 13, Jackson 7, and Crawford 4 (he was physically unable to be President in that he had suffered a serious stroke in 1823). Those loyal to Jackson immediately cried foul, declaring that JQA and Clay denied Jackson the Presidency in a "Corrupt Bargain". Clay believed that he had out-maneuvered Jackson, but the Average American (who by the early-1820s was able to vote) saw trickery and machinations, and Jackson would win by a large margin in 1828.
Monroe's last message to Congress included asking for funds for Lafayette, who was basically broke. Congress allocated funds to save Lafayette, but was unwilling to do the same to help Monroe. By then, Monroe was $75,000 in debt, $53,000 of that was in essence "back-pay" that Congress owed Monroe from his years serving as a diplomat in Europe, including expenses.
By the early-1830s, Monroe's self-serving politically ambitious successors had started to seriously undermine national unity, which on a variety of fronts led to the Civil War thirty years later. And to this day, for better-or-for-worse, U.S. Presidents have invoked the Monroe Doctrine, for both Isolationist and Expansionist reasons.